Lobby points fingers at MPs in Saudi jobs scandal

Haki Africa Gender Rights Coordinator Salma Hemed addresses the media at their offices in Mombasa on October 22, 2014, on the fate of Kenyans in the Middle East. Haki Africa claimed that prominent politicians and government officials own some of the illegal job recruitment agencies that are sending Kenyans to the Middle East. FILE PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Haki Africa said the government officials, including MPs, owned about 10 such agencies.
  • In the last month, the Kenya Government has received an unprecedented number of complaints about sexual harassment, torture and forced labour from its citizens in Saudi Arabia.
  • The Haki Africa official said though some have made it in the promised land, the majority have been tortured, victimised, sexually harassed and some died in mysterious circumstances.

Prominent politicians and government officials own some of the illegal job recruitment agencies that are sending Kenyans to the Middle East, a lobby group has claimed.

Haki Africa, on Wednesday, said the government officials, including MPs, owned about 10 such agencies.

Speaking at a press conference at the group’s Mombasa headquarters, Haki Africa gender rights coordinator Salma Hemed urged the government to involve human rights organisations and victims of abuse in vetting recruiting agents and agencies.

In the last month, the Kenya Government has received an unprecedented number of complaints about sexual harassment, torture and forced labour from its citizens in Saudi Arabia.

“We want justice for Kenyans. For the vetting of the agencies to be effective, the victims and Haki Africa must be involved because we know those that should never have been licensed due to their dubious activities. We have documented more than 50 cases of Kenyans in Middle East countries undergoing torture and some who have disappeared,” Ms Hemed said.

Agencies duped poor Kenyans with promises of plum jobs, she said, but on arrival, they were forced to work as domestic workers. When they asked to be taken back home, the agents demanded money.

INVESTIGATIONS
She urged the Criminal Investigations Department to investigate the agencies.

“Three MPs from Ukambani own illegal recruiting agencies. They should not be given licences and their businesses must be shut,” she said.

She blamed poverty and lack of equal job opportunities for the rush by Kenyans to seek employment abroad.

The Haki Africa official said though some have made it in the promised land, the majority have been tortured, victimised, sexually harassed and some died in mysterious circumstances.

At the press conference were more than 10 victims who managed to return home.

Ms Rukiya Rama Khamis, 30, was overcome with emotion as she narrated her tribulations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“I was working for a family with seven children and I went through a lot of torture. I was overwhelmed with work so I ran away and got a job at a school. But one day while shopping, I was arrested chained in a cell like a dog. Later, I was charged in court for engaging in prostitution. I was sentenced to six years and given 600 strokes,” she said.

NO ASSISTANCE
Ms Khamis said after serving one year, she was pardoned during this year’s Ramadhan.

She claimed the Kenyan embassy in Saudia Arabia did not help citizens stranded in the foreign country, adding that numerous Kenyans were in jails in Saudi Arabia.

She said they admitted whatever charges were made against them as they had no means to defend themselves.

Haki Africa said it supported the government’s decision to cancel the licences of all recruiting agents but called for thorough vetting before they are re-issued.

Families of 10 other people stranded in Middle East countries asked the government to help bring home their relatives.

Mr Abdallah Suleiman of Ng’ombeni in Kwale County said his wife Fatuma is stranded in Saudi Arabia after her agency abandoned her.

“Where is the government when our families are suffering in foreign lands? Are we slaves in our own countries? What is the embassy doing? My wife travelled in April this year and after three months I got information that she was sick.

“She was brutally beaten and now has a kidney problem. I paid Sh40,000 to the agency to bring her back but to date I have not seen her,” he said.

He urged the government to fire all the staff at the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia for failing to protect citizens.

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